The Bad Job Blues

Do you love your job?

I read a good article recently about how to deal when you find yourself in a work rut as a young professional. It reminded me of a few jobs I went through right after business school. That’s right, I said a few jobs. Three years after graduation I was on to my third job. Number three stuck, and I stayed for over two decades, but it wasn’t always smooth getting there.

I don’t regret those first few jobs, even though I wasn’t necessarily happy at the time. I learned a lot about myself and I paid attention to what I liked and didn’t like. When I finally did find the “right” job, it wasn’t by accident.

Even if you do have a job you love, we all go through periods of dissatisfaction at work. Don’t let those times slip by without taking the opportunity to learn from them.

If you’re unhappy at work, here are some things to consider:

1. Check your expectations.

What’s everyone’s favorite advice for young people starting out in the workforce?

Follow your passion!  Do what you love!

This isn’t necessarily bad advice (it’s advice that I’ve given to people), but it can create a sort of false expectation that, coming out of college, you should know, pursue, and obtain your one special magical career RIGHT AWAY. With that expectation, anything less can feel like failure. In fact it may take years or even decades to really identify and understand your work-related “passions” or “loves.”

Those first few years after you start work can be as much about finding out what you don’t love as they are finding what you do. That’s why it’s no surprise that young workers (age 18-29) tend to be less satisfied at work than their older (30 and over) counterparts.

If you don’t have “the right” job yet, don’t worry! But don’t waste this time either.

Which leads me to my next point…

2.  Learn from your situation.

First, even if you know this isn’t the job for you, try to learn all you can. You never know how the knowledge and skills you gain now may help you in the future. This is one thing I wish I had done better with my first job after business school. I worked in marketing consulting for a big consulting and accounting firm. I actually kind of liked the work itself, but realized early-on that the job didn’t fit my long-term career goals. I stuck with it for a year, but I was so focused on moving on that I missed great opportunities to learn a lot about tax and auditing. Looking back, I wish I’d done more to learn from those around me.

Second, if you’re not happy at work right now, figure out why! And I don’t mean the “they never stock the right kind of soda in the break room” kind-of-stuff. Think critically about what’s really bothering you and what could make it better. Not only will it help you to evaluate potential jobs in the future, but it may help improve your situation now.

At Job # 2 I found myself frustrated because the entire pay and bonus structure was static. It didn’t matter how well (or how poorly for that matter) I did my job, my bonus was always 10% of my salary and employees always received the same raise every year, no more, no less. I realized that to really challenge myself and reach my full potential I needed a job that would tap in to my competitive nature, and I made sure that Job #3 did so.

3.  Don’t give up.

God calls us to excellence in all things, including—gasp!—jobs we don’t like.

Don’t let bitterness or anger towards work poison your life. Strive to do your job well, if for no other reason than to honor God (which, really, is a pretty good reason!).

If you are thinking of leaving your job, find another job first. Don’t quit without a place to go. It may be tempting to just walk away, especially if you really hate it, but you will likely regret it in the long run.

Overall, remember that God is good, and He has prepared you for this. He will not test you beyond what you can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13).